Many companies have a “use it or lose it” leave policy and I am often surprised that people are prepared to forfeit leave which they have earned. People seem to think that we need to work longer hours and take fewer days off in these difficult financial times. But why do we feel guilty when it comes to taking a break? This could come from the employer’s side. Employers should be encouraging staff to take their leave and not making it difficult for them to take leave (because of the impact it will have on clients or a project, etc.) or worse, forcing them to work through their holidays.
In South Africa, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act provides for annual leave on completion of a year of continuous service with an employer. A worker is entitled to 21 consecutive days of paid annual leave. For most employees that equates 15 paid work days off.
In Europe, many countries offer more than this, many jobs in the US offer no paid vacation time and some companies – especially where creativity is of the essence – are now offering unlimited paid leave! However, initial findings are showing that people are actually taking less leave as it doesn’t feel endorsed or for fear that they may look bad or lazy.
In a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it was found that employees who take most or all of their leave each year perform better, are more productive and more satisfied with their jobs than those who do not. Fifty-eight percent of the HR professionals questioned in this survey said that employees who take all or most of their leave are likely to take fewer sick days. A healthy and happy employee is less likely to take sick days on an ongoing basis.
The effects of working long hours without taking breaks or being ‘married to your job’ are immense. An unhealthy work-life balance can cause strain on your personal relationships and your health. People often overlook the danger of fatigue; job-related accidents and car accidents can be the result of fatigue, and no employer wants that kind of responsibility.
While you may think you’re the most productive employee by not taking a break, it has been proven that productivity actually decreases in this situation. We have a finite pool of cognitive resources, so when you constantly drain these, you’re not being as productive as possible. And then we see performance decline.
Taking a break gives employees the opportunity to re-energise body and mind and thus return with renewed vigour for their work. After a good break, employees generally approach tasks with a fresh mindset and better efficiency.
In creative jobs, leave can provide the essential inspiration and vacation is an important component in maintaining a positive organisational culture.
Here is some advice for people who struggle to take leave:
- Give your employer plenty of notice of the leave you would like to take
- Delegate your work to others in the office well in advance
- Book your holiday, flights and other travel arrangements in advance so that you are committed to the vacation
- Plan holidays and outings with family and friends so that you feel obliged to stick to the arrangement and you can’t back out
- Once you are on leave, turn off your SmartPhone, your iPad and your laptop and relax!
With the end of the year fast approaching, so is the busy period for leave requests. Parents have to consider child-care while schools are closed, employers will want to keep the business running, but almost everybody wants to be out enjoying the prevailing feeling of fun-in-the-sun. It is a difficult time to balance everyone’s needs and desires. Many South African businesses opt to ‘close shop’ for the holiday period so that everyone can enjoy this special time with their families. Keep in mind that after a difficult year, a “time out” is needed and employees will return in 2017 ready to be their creative and productive best.